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Stuck in a Paper-Based Safety Program? Here’s a Roadmap Out

Toby Graham /

While many organizations are ready to make the transition away from manual methods, the biggest question many organizations face is, “How can make this switch away from spreadsheets and clipboards smooth and seamless?”

Here’s your roadmap for a successful digital transition. Buckle your seatbelts. Here we go…

Step 1: Collect all those paper checklists and any data you’re recording in spreadsheets.

This may seem like a bit of a treasure hunt, so why not approach it like one! In setting your mission, think about what types of information your EHS program historically collects and stores? And where?

In addition to securing the “usual suspects”—injury reporting forms, etc.—think about whether there are forms that a specific department (and only that department) uses for, say, their lockout/tag-out program. Recruit members of individual departmental teams to confirm what and how they use, collect, store, and share data.

Step 2: Break this all down into a reasonable project plan.

One of the biggest reasons software implementations fail is because the project’s scale was too grandiose from the get-go.

Be realistic with setting your goals, and apply the SMART goal method (focus on goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable, and time-bound). What’s a SMART goal, you ask? We’ve written all about them here.

Also, consider starting small. Think about what goals are reasonable for achieving in the next 30, 60, and 90 days and go from there.

Step 3: Prioritize what to tackle

In addition to collecting the forms that will be transitioning over to digital, this means prioritizing which ones you’ll tackle first. Perhaps you’ll want to start with the OSHA 300 logs before moving on to how to collect additional data and get input on corrective and preventative actions.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for this step. But having a good project plan and assigning owners within the organization for each of them will help streamline the process.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  •  Who will be responsible for collecting all of the various checklists?
  • Who will make sure that every user can successfully log in?
  • Who’s going to ensure that all the information gets entered into the system?
  • Who’s going to set up and manage training on how to use the EHS software?
  • Who will translate the paper and spreadsheet-related checklists into online audits and inspections or online tools for accident and incident management?

By outlining questions like these and memorializing the answers in writing for everyone involved to see and discuss, the makings of a solid project plan will start to take shape!

Step 4: Get an executive sponsor

This doesn’t mean getting the CEO or a corporate vice president to sign off on the initiative. This means getting someone at the upper level of management who’s willing to show up at the meetings, remove bottlenecks, and truly show leadership as well as ownership over the entire process.

And you may even want to look for an executive sponsor who’s not in the direct line for environmental health and safety. Indeed, a VP of EHS will be excited to work on transitioning from paper safety checklists and spreadsheets to digital. But bringing other C-level executives on board, like the CFO,  or VP of Operations, or even the CEO, can send a message that what you are doing is a critical initiative with buy-in from the top.

Step 5: Be realistic and stay focused

Make sure everyone is committed to the transition to digital EHS data management. You already know that safety isn’t the EHS team’s job—it’s everyone’s. And, it doesn’t matter where the EHS function lives. While somebody ultimately must be responsible overall for the safety program, positive EHS outcomes only happen when the entire organization is committed to a safe workplace.

Indeed, this starts by ensuring that workers safely perform their duties. And perhaps the most significant selling point you can impress upon the workforce is how using EHS software to collect, store, and look up information can help make their lives easier!

Step 6: Show, don’t tell how this digital transition helps employees

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’ve got a janitor who’s not quite sure if mixing ammonia with Clorox could be dangerous or whether dumping those chemicals down the drain would be an environmental hazard.

Focusing on user involvement helps you:

  • Show the janitor how easy it will be to confirm how to safely the chemicals.
  • Provide valuable information about the proper way to dispose of them.

That way they can rest assured they aren’t doing something to compromise safety, or potentially contaminate stormwater. Why? Because they have instant access to safety data sheets.

It’s not just about communicating that the organization is transitioning to digital—it’s about focusing on why and how the shift can help make the employees’ work environment safer given their immediate, real-time access to safety data sheets and other critical information.

Here’s another quick example:

You have a forklift operator who needs to run through a safety checklist at the start of every shift, but today someone left the laminated checklist card all the way across the warehouse. But this worker just wants to get started with their shift – because they have a bunch of pallets they need to move before someone complains.

In the non-digital EHS world, the forklift operator has to run across the warehouse, get the card, fill it out, and then give it to somebody who will enter the information into a spreadsheet to confirm the forklift inspection happened. In the real world, we’re talking maybe 15 minutes that this employee will have to spend running around doing something they’re not thrilled about.

But, what if you could show them how being able to pull that forklift inspection checklist on their phone means that in just two or three clicks, they’ll be off and running to fulfilling their safety duties so they can get on with moving those pallets.

And one final example. (Here’s how to get buy-in from employees whose safety involvement may be strictly administrative.)

Let’s say the workers’ compensation coordinator has to run from the back office upstairs to the shop floor every time there’s a safety incident to determine if everyone’s OK and if anyone might need first-aid or more substantial medical treatment.

Because they’re in a rush to get to the shop floor to triage the situation, they continually forget the incident forms they will have to fill out. Maybe they’ve got a notepad, or they can take notes on their phone, but they’re still going to have to run back upstairs to retrieve the form then back down again to find witnesses to what happened so they can complete their report.

The bottom line: This is another example of how EHS software can rescue this coordinator from on-the-job hassles. They likely already have a phone handy, so being able to call up the resources they need and get guided instructions in real-time can make their job a lot easier.

Looking for EHS Software that’s easy to use? You’re in the right spot.

KPA offers an EHS software platform tailored to the needs of your business. All-in-one system designed to engage your employees, instill a culture of safety, and enable regulatory compliance. Get a custom demo >>

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